NEW ORLEANS — You had to get to the elevator quickly if you were going to make it down to the field before time expired.
The rule was this: With five minutes left to play in the Sugar Bowl, writers would be allowed onto the field. But the elevator would be held for the coaches to get down from their booths with two minutes left in the game.
There’s a lot that could go wrong or slow you down in that three-minute span. Naturally, half of press row started piling into the elevator at the Superdome with a little less than 10 minutes left to play.
When I got down to the sideline, Oklahoma held a 38-31 lead over Alabama. Then I found Aldon standing near the north end zone.
Aldon is a slender debonair man with waves atop his head so fine you might get seasick if you stare at them for too long. He was working as a Sugar Bowl official throughout bowl week doing whatever was needed, and he was a touchstone for media members like me when we needed logistical and/or culinary help.
He knew what time the shuttle to the Superdome was leaving as well, where to get the best shrimp po-boy in the city, where to get your hair cut in a pinch.
Like any avid sports fan, Aldon kept stats in his head and was keen to spout them off whenever was clever, but the one he kept talking about over and over was the one he called the Marriott stat.
To him, the Sooners’ only saving grace was that they’d ended up in the Marriott Hotel, and Alabama didn’t.
He knew Oklahoma was a 17-point underdog. He knew Alabama was the two-time defending BCS national champion. He knew the Crimson Tide had a quarterback who was a Heisman Trophy Finalist.
He knew OU’s quarterback situation was so out of sorts that no one outside the program even knew which man — Trevor Knight or Blake Bell — was going to start the game under center. No, Aldon didn’t give OU much of a chance to win the Sugar Bowl either, but he believed in the power of the Marriott stat.
Just before Oklahoma punted, giving Alabama the ball with 56 seconds left, I asked Aldon to tell me once more about the Marriott stat.
“Four years straight, the team that stayed at the Marriot has won,” he said. “But since Jan. 1 of 2008, the team that stayed at the Marriot at 555 Canal Street is 6-2. That includes two national championships and six Sugar Bowls.”
Last year, Teddy Bridgewater led No. 21 Louisville to a 33-23 win against No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The win was the biggest upset of the bowl season and supplanted Bridgewater as one of the best NFL prospects in college football. Louisville stayed at the Marriott.
In 2012 when Alabama beat Louisiana State 21-0 at the Superdome for the national title, the Tide players and coaching staff stayed at the Marriott.
A Terrelle Pryor led Ohio State team beat Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl. Pryor passed for 221 yards with two TDs and rushed for 115 yards. No doubt Pryor had a good night’s sleep the night before.
He laid his head at the Marriott.
A few minutes after Aldon got done explaining the Marriott stat, Eric Striker sacked AJ McCarron and forced McCarron to fumble and Geneo Grissom scooped and scored. It was one of five turnovers OU got out the Tide.
“Coach Stoops told us before the start of the game that turnovers would be huge,” Grissom said. “Without turnovers it would be harder to win the game. We were able to get those turnovers, and luckily the ball popped out right in front of me both times.”
The defense played lights out. Co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel called his best game of the season, and Knight played more like Drew Brees than he did J.C. Watts for the first time all season — and beat the No. 3 team in the country doing it.
On the way back to the elevator to write my stories for the game, I thought about Maybe OU should look at booking the Canal Street Marriott for the Texas game in October. Couldn’t hurt, right?